In his choice of words condemning the terrorists behind the murderous attack in Manchester on Monday, President Donald Trump told us as much about himself as he did about the perpetrators of violence he was describing. He pronounced those who target civilians “evil losers” – and it was clear that he viewed the “losers” part of the equation as a more shameful label than “evil.”
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Trump made the remarks while meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday morning at the presidential palace in Bethlehem. Trump explained his decision to label the terrorists in detail, saying, “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that was a great name. I will call them losers from now on. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers, just remember that.”
To Trump, being a "loser" is apparently just as bad – or maybe worse – than being evil. Throughout the presidential campaign, his go-to promise, which resonated in his early days – before he seized on the slogan “Make America Great Again” – was the prospect of “winning.”
He repeatedly pledged to voters in the primaries that: “We’re going to win so much. You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President, I have a headache. Please, don’t win so much. This is getting terrible.’ And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again.’ You’re gonna say, ‘Please.’ I said, ‘Nope, nope. We’re gonna keep winning.’
When Trump vowed Tuesday to use the term “from now on,” he knew what he was promising. The president has a history of taking name-calling seriously and once he chooses an insulting nickname, he sticks with it. His disparaging monikers, used over and over again, proved damaging to his opponents while he was campaigning – from “Little Marco” for Marco Rubio to “Lying Ted” for Ted Cruz in the primaries, and to the infamous “Crooked Hillary” in the general election.
The choice of “losers” to describe Muslim terrorists has echoes in some of the far-right media that Trump and some members of his team are known to favor. That term is used by Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch, an anti-Muslim writer and blogger who is a favorite of the American far right, who was barred from entering the United Kingdom about four years ago for “making statement that may foster hatred that might lead to inter-community violence.” In a July, 2016 article in Breitbart.com headlined “Does Islam Convert Social Losers into Time Bombs?” Spencer used the term to explain that Islam and “free societies” of the West were dangerously incompatible.
“In Arab societies," he wrote, "losers are socially humiliated and also impose shame on their friends and family. Obvious Islamic piety and observance provides a partial redemption."
"Muslim losers in the West, however, have an additional option — they can redeem themselves from personal and familial humiliation by an outburst of murderous piety, be it performed with a machete, truck, gun or bomb, against nearby non-Muslims,” Spencer added.
Other, more mainstream figures, particularly in Great Britain have also used the term to make the point that many of the terrorist attackers that have plagued the West are socially marginalized individuals who are attempting to redeem themselves through jihad.
For his part, best-selling author Frederick Forsyth has written that such people are purposeless and direction-less “failures and losers,” who are easy targets for extremist conversion.
And Boris Johnson, when serving as mayor of London, went even further than Trump, calling the men who go to fight with Islamic State “porn-obsessed” and sexually frustrated – “[people] in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong and feel like winners.”